In a new study published in the leading journal Marine Policy titled The Myths of Svalbard Geopolitics: An Arctic Case Study, FNI senior researcher Andreas Østhagen challenges prevailing misconceptions about the geopolitical dynamics of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic.

The Arctic region has been the subject of sensationalized geopolitical analyses, often depicting a simplistic narrative of rivalry and conflict driven by the melting sea ice. Østhagen argues that these perspectives underestimate the intricate political and legal factors at play and overestimate the influence of geophysical changes.

Key Findings:

  • Complex Political Dynamics: Østhagen emphasizes the need to understand specific geopolitical cases, such as Svalbard, rather than generalizing Arctic geopolitics based on climate change alone.
  • Misconceptions and Myths: He addresses common myths, including sovereignty disputes, the legal and military status of Svalbard, and the geographical scope of the Svalbard Treaty from 1920.
  • Real Geopolitical Issues: The study identifies three primary issues: challenges to Norwegian policies on land, disagreements over the Svalbard Treaty’s extension to maritime zones, and the potential military use of Svalbard in larger conflicts involving Russia.

Østhagen debunks myths surrounding Svalbard, revealing that while there are significant geopolitical concerns, these are often misrepresented in popular media and some academic scholarship. The study highlights how misunderstandings can obscure the real issues, such as the strategic and symbolic importance of Svalbard in Norway–Russia relations and NATO–Russia dynamics.

The article also delves into the historical context of Svalbard’s political situation, tracing back to its early economic activities and the subsequent international negotiations leading to the Svalbard Treaty. This historical perspective is crucial in understanding the contemporary geopolitical landscape.

Implications for Arctic Policy:

The findings call for a more nuanced and accurate discussion about Arctic geopolitics, particularly concerning Svalbard.

Policymakers and scholars are urged to consider the specific legal, political, and historical contexts when analyzing Arctic issues.

The study provides a foundation for more informed decisions and strategies in managing Arctic geopolitics.

The full article is available here.


About the Author:
Andreas Østhagen is an expert in Arctic geopolitics and international relations. His research focuses on the intersections of geography, politics, and security in the Arctic region. This article is supported by the Norwegian Research Council and the Norwegian Ministry of Defence’s program for research on security and defense policy.

About Marine Policy:
Marine Policy is a leading journal focused on governance and economics related to the oceans. It publishes research on marine affairs, including topics such as ocean governance, policy, and management.